Improv for Music Educators

April has been a very interesting month in our Applied Improvisation world. Ballet, Technical Support, Innovation, Shakespeare for 5th Graders – all sorts of new challenges have surfaced.

CSz Keyboard Player Mark Anderson approached me several months ago and asked if I would be interested in teaching improv skills, theory and music to the regional meeting of American Orff-Schulwerk Association. Mark teaches in elementary schools and got involved with the Orff Approach several years ago. Mark sees a lot of connections between the two disciplines of Orff and Improvisation, and he’s even taught us at a team practice.

We had six hours to play with, including lunch. The morning was devoted to improvisation theory, culture and skills – all experienced through games, and then reflected upon. All of the teachers took to it like ducks to water.

In the afternoon, we shifted gears into creating songs using improv. Most of it was fantastic, but there seemed to be some elements of hesitation. I was at a loss to understand it, given how well the previous work had gone, until Mark explained it to me: Words. Orff teachers aren’t used to inventing lyrics!

In or out of comfort zones, beautiful music was created. Connections between the forms were clearly made, and lots of fun was had. Read Mark’s terrific blog piece on his experience.

Patrick Short has been writing songs since he was 8. Find some of the more recent ones at




Improv at the Ballet

We had an extraordinary workshop experience last week because of an exchange on Twitter:

Mar 24
Helen Pickett is making the dancers…improv. Eek! Ballet dancers’ worst nightmare!

Mar 24
Maybe we can help?

Mar 24
Please do! Wanna crash a rehearsal soon and show us how it’s done?

Mar 24
Yes And! We’d be happy to. Call or message us through

And on April 11, it came together!

Apr 11 workshop! If we can survive an hour of improv in a format we don’t claim to be good at, we’ll kill it in Petal.

Apr 11 : The most elegant improvised pirate ship ever!

Apr 11 Thanks for today! We had such a blast. Opened our minds and made us laugh!

In speaking with choreographer Helen Pickett (see an interview with Helen) before the workshop, I realized that we were taking two forms – dance and acting – and connecting them with the bridge of Applied Improvisation. The workshop itself came pretty directly out of the corporate workshop playbook, and it was very enlightening.

Dancers typically are told exactly what to do and when to do it. When faced with moments of improvisation, the openness can be overwhelming.

We explored that through exercises aimed at:

  • Listening / Observing
  • Accepting
  • Supporting – going where you are needed
  • Taking competent risks (after all, these people have amazing physical tools at their disposal – freedom to use those tools is exhilarating)
  • Letting go of mistakes

The last item – letting go of mistakes – seemed to really hit home.

One of the best things for me was seeing tension give way to laughter – and a gathering crowd of folks on the other side of the glass who wished they had chosen to play with us.



Minds opened.

We hope to collaborate further with Oregon Ballet Theatre!


Update: I got to see OBT in action on April 24, and Petal was astounding – I could not tell what was improvised! The whole evening, called Celebrate, was partly in honor of retiring principal dancer Alison Roper; there was a multi-media retrospective of her life and career (dance, images, music and a voice-over interview), plus two of her favorite dances – Cor Perdut (absolutely stunning) and Girl From Ipanema (her first big role at OBT).

Following the performance was a talk-back featuring Artistic Director Kevin Irving and four dancers. Makino Hayashi gave our workshop experience a nice shout out (and I even got a hug). The improvisation was the most asked-about and talked about element. Kevin expressed regret that he had had to miss the improv workshop, and hoped I would be willing to come back.


When improv performer and instructor Patrick Short dances, people laugh. Petal was part of the Oregon Ballet Theatre production Celebrate, which ran April 17-26, 2014 at the Newmark Theater at Portland5.